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The Most Influential Artists: #8 R.E.M.

R.E.M. 1985
Portrait of the band REM, left to right, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Bill Berry, and Michael Stipe in Athens, Georgia, April 8, 1985. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

As part of our 35th anniversary, we’re naming the most influential artists of the past 35 years. Today, we’re at #8. From Athens, Georgia, here is R.E.M.

R.E.M. 1989

It started not with an earthquake, but a conversation.

Michael Stipe and Peter Buck first met in 1980, at a record shop just off campus at the University of Georgia. They bonded over mutual favorite art- and punk-rock bands, and they soon started writing music together. A few months later, joined by fellow student-musicians Mike Mills and Bill Berry, they played their first show at a friend’s birthday party. 

Most anonymous college groups never get much further — let alone shoulder a movement that would reroute rock history.

Throughout the ‘80s, R.E.M. were unwitting architects of alternative rock’s first definitive wave — a band supported not by star-making corporate juggernauts but by college radio stations and devout gaggles of fans, who together pushed their favorite groups to heights previously unachieved through such grassroots efforts.  

Not to mention the band’s singular sound: Stipe’s idiosyncratic wails, Buck’s timeless (and solo-abhorring) guitar work, Mills’ hypnotic bass lines, Berry’s prudent drumming — all of it shirked the day’s glossy New Wave and hair metal crazes. 

From 1983 to 1996 (before Berry’s exit in 1997), R.E.M. embarked on a deeply lauded 10-album tear. The records were luminous yet opaque, jangling yet enigmatic. They produced too many genre staples to list, though “The One I Love,” “Losing My Religion” and the 2020-appropriate “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” remain in regular circulation for millions of fans.  

Virtually every iconic alt-rock band to follow — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead — were heavily influenced by R.E.M. Eddie Vedder admitted in 2007, while inducting the group into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that he listened to R.E.M.’s debut Murmur more than 1,200 times. 

And in his final interview with Rolling Stone in 1994, Kurt Cobain might have said it best: “If I could write just a couple of songs as good as what they’ve [R.E.M.] written … I don’t know how that band does what they do. God, they’re the greatest.”